If, by now, you haven’t heard about Pat Robertson’s remarks about the Haitian earthquake being God’s retaliation and judgment upon the country for their pact with Satan, made in order to free themselves from the control of the French government in the late 1700s, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock.
(You did know there was a 7.2 magnitude earthquake 10 miles off the coast of Port au Prince, Haiti around 5pm EST on Tuesday, January 11th of this year, 2010, right? Just checking.)
It wasn’t 24 hours later that Robertson made the following remarks on “The 700 Club.” (In case you don’t want to watch it all, below the video, you’ll find the text of his statement.)
And you know, Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon III and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. ‘They said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. That Island of Hispaniola is one island cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty, same islands. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable. (source)
Not long after this video aired, and was uploaded on YouTube, Pat Robertson became a top trending topic on Twitter (which is the best source for what’s going on at any given time in America — sorry Facebook) as well as was being widely discussed on Facebook and blogs all across the country.
Being a blogger, you sometimes feel an obligation to speak out about certain issues that happen, especially issues which seem to affect a particular group of which you may be a member. This is one of those times for me. I feel an obligation to speak up for the Christians who don’t agree with Robertson and his statement, for those who are standing with, and behind Haiti during this time.
However, had this very event happened four or five years ago, I may have stayed silent. I might have even agreed with Robertson. Why?
I was largely ignorant to Haiti’s rich and incredible history. I didn’t know about Haiti’s slave rebellion — the most successful in history — which, in many ways, paved the road for the rebellions that took place here, and lead Haiti to become “the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and [the] first black-governed republic.” I didn’t know about how “the repercussions… extended far beyond the small island nation… [into] the United States, where Haiti’s slave revolt figured directly in two of the most significant events in United States history: the Louisiana Purchase and the American Civil War.” (source) I, like most Americans (and probably Pat Robertson as well), was never taught these things; I was taught that Haiti was an ugly, impoverished third world country, inhabited by savages, and full of witchcraft, voodoo, and Satanism, out of which nothing good has or will ever come.
Haiti is undoubtedly a third world country. It is, in fact, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living below the poverty line (source) and it is 50% poorer than the next closest country, Nicaragua (source).
And yes, it’s also true that witchcraft, voodoo and Satanism (the latter two of which are not as closely related as most have been lead to believe) exist there. (The also exist in the states by the way — just in case you thought we were special.)While Roman Catholics make up 80% of the Haitian population, Protestants at 16%, roughly half of the population practices voodoo (source). How does approximately half the country practice voodoo and Catholicism at the same time? (Unless you’re an expert on Haitian culture, you’re probably asking just like I was.) Well, that’s another story for another time, but let’s suffice it to say that it’s one of the effects of Haiti’s liberation (source).
But to think that nothing good could come out of such a strong heritage, a beautiful people, a wonderful country, is not only delusional and ignorant, it’s absolute absurdity.
I share that with you because whenever you want to talk about a particular country — in this case, Haiti — you have to understand the context of the people, of the country, and how their history plays a role in the current situation. Understand how the country got into the poverty that it’s in. Understand the history of the people, where they came from, and why voodoo is more widespread there than in other places. Get the facts.
Robertson compared Haiti to the Dominican Republic, which inhabits the other side of the island of Hispaniola, noting that there seemed to be a stark difference between the two. And he’s right. But couldn’t we also compare Mexico with the United States? They’re parts of the same island, but have developed differently because, just like Haiti and the DR, they are different countries with different leaderships and different histories. The same could be said quite a few places. It’s not the island; it’s the history of slavery and colonialism and development (or lack thereof) that has lead the country into such extreme poverty.
Perhaps this is a simple case where Robertson simply didn’t know what the history behind the country he was talking about; that’s a likely option, right? Ignorance is to blame.
Even if Robertson said is correct, I have to wonder about his motivation. This is the biggest issue for me — perhaps even more than whether his statement was correct or not. What good could have come from sharing that information with the public? Did it encourage, uplift, or help anyone in any way? No. It actually did quite the opposite — it stirred up hate (not only directed towards Robertson, but hate towards Haiti coming from those who stood behind and agreed with him) and it served to perpetuate the erroneous notion that the country is a backwards, no good place that won’t ever get itself out of its current state.
Hear me: I’m not negating the fact that voodoo is practiced there, nor trying to downplay it’s importance in that culture. Voodoo and its powers are very real and very serious. Does this mean that, because half the population practices a certain religion, they deserve any less help from us in this time of incredible need? Certainly not. Now is the time when we must show them love and compassion more than any other time. If you witnessed a horrible accident, would you find out the person’s religion before assisting them?
Haitian-born author, Edwidge Danticat says,“Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when It’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it.”
She speaks sobering truth. Yet now that we know about Haiti, we have a responsibility to do what we can to make it a better place. This is an opportunity for the country to rebuild and become even stronger, and more passionate than it was before. Jo Nubian writes: “We have to realize that we are Haiti, as we are Zimbabwe, as we are Chicago. We have to act now with vigor and earnestness, certainly, but we have to act again and again, because as Edwidge Danticat noted, we can not only consider Haiti and other places like Haiti in these extreme times.” I couldn’t agree more.
For all those affected by this tragedy, especially those who may be reading this who are Haitian, and perhaps have family or friends who they haven’t heard from: Please know that you are in our hearts and in our prayers. Don’t lose hope — God is the God of the impossible!
We will stand behind you and beside you through this process. We are better because of you. We are with you, Haiti.
[Note: If you would like to donate, you can text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti program or text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross. Both donations will be charged to your cell phone bill. Please donate now.]
[Additional Note: Ambassador Raymond Joseph, the Haitian Ambassador to the United States, made an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s show the other night and had something to say about Robertson’s comment. Watch the video here.]